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Mountain News: Jackson Hole reducing energy use



JACKSON, Wyo. — In ways large but mostly small, Jackson and Teton County keep chipping away at use of fossil-based energy, as Jackson had vowed to do when signing the Mayors' Agreement on Climate Change in 2006.

The biggest single largest consumer of energy by the local governments is the wastewater treatment plant, and that's where the largest investments have been made. Aided by federal stimulus funds, the community installed 224 kilowatts in solar generating capacity. Since September 2010, it has produced 225-megawatt hours of production.

Now comes a trio of projects aimed to more efficiently use energy at the treatment plant. One project, which improves the efficiency of aeration, will reduce electricity costs by $64,000 per year, given current rates. The entire front-end costs were paid by a $457,000 grant from the local electrical cooperative, Lower Valley Energy, using money from wholesale provider Bonneville Power.

In 2008, the town and county rolled out a program called 10 X 10. As the name implied, the goal was to reduce energy 10 per cent by 2010. The program directed attention to reducing energy use and, in some cases, spurred innovation. For example, one large user of energy is the gasoline used by police, who commonly keep their cars idling constantly, arguing that they can't shut down their computers. An innovation achieved in the town's public works department helped them overcome that complaint.

Still, the town fell short in its goal for in-house operations — not achieving the full 10 per cent reduction until well into 2011. But it has done so with not just the big projects, but also the smaller projects in the town's building infrastructure. "Most of it was non-sexy and boring: windows, doors, weather stripping, caulking. But it all helps," says Larry Pardee, the town's public works director.

Pardee was among a delegation that went to Aspen in 2006 to attend a conference sponsored by that community's Canary Initiative. They returned to Wyoming, with fire in the belly, determined to shrink Jackson Hole's contribution to the world's accumulating greenhouse gas emissions. But the work has been harder than any had expected.

Finally, major gains are being realized. "I was telling the Jackson council, 'Maybe it's partial luck, but with the economy down and budgets being cut, we're saving money (because of less energy use). It will help us in the short term, and it will help us over the longer term.'"

More is coming as the town, after several years of preparation, begins expanding its energy saving efforts more broadly into the community. The town hopes to get funding of up to $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, to be used specifically for the residential sector — which, despite the high housing prices, is mostly not that striking and certainly not very energy efficient.